White Raven Bringing Light To The World, by Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, is one of over 30 images and videos in a newexhibit depicting Haida female supernatural beings. It is on display at the Haida Gwaii Museum until the end of December. (Image courtesy Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson)

Seeing Supernaturals

Digital art exhibit imagines Haida Gwaii’s female supernatural beings

It started with song.

Accompanied by scores of people sitting, standing, or bending an ear in the open doorways of the Kay Centre Performance House last Friday, Haida singer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson sang a new song to open her first exhibit of visual art.

Sung in Haida language and in English, the lyrics recalled some of the ruin that colonization brought during the time of her great-grandmother, Susan Williams, who was born at Skedans and moved to Skidegate in 1896.

“She had a hand in what would have been a very different life, and she witnessed a lot in her time,” says Williams-Davidson.

She also remains a powerful force in the community.

Not only did Susan Williams raise 13 children — dozens of her descendants stood at Gidansda’s recent potlatch in Skidegate — she and the Haida Gwaii Singers recorded over 100 Haida songs before the end of her long life, at 109, to save what might have been lost.

Like her great-grandmother, who gave her the Haida name Lalaxaaygans or “beautiful sound,” Williams-Davidson has done much to keep Haida culture alive.

As a lawyer, she represented the Haida Nation at the Supreme Court of Canada. As a singer, she won a Keeper of Traditions award for rescuing ancient songs.

Her latest work, Out of Concealment: Female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii, is also rooted in the deep past.

But it feels strikingly new.

Everyone who saw it first at the Haida Gwaii Museum last Friday was greeted by a gallery full of LED lightboxes, prints, animated videos, and a silk screen showing surreal images of Williams-Davidson depicting nearly three dozen Haida supernatural beings.

As Mouse Woman, Kaagan Jaad, she shelters under what looks like a giant mushroom.

As Mountain Goat Woman, Maat Jaad, she overlooks Haida Gwaii from the peak of Mount Moresby, a form-line image of herself sketched into the sky.

Designed by her husband, Robert Davidson, the form-line designs, masks, and scultpures “ghosted” into Williams-Davidson’s own images of female supernatural beings shows the abstract way they have been represented by Haida artists going back to artist Charles Edenshaw and before.

“I wanted to be able to visualize what they might look like today,” said Williams-Davidson, who along with her husband, enjoys the blend of ancient and modern art.

“What he’s told me, and what I believe as well, is that culture is something that remains relevant to us,” she said.

“Culture is never something static that remains in the past — it needs to be relevant to contemporary people.”

Islanders will recognize some of the landscapes in the background of Williams-Davidson’s surreal digital collages, such as Skincuttle Inlet, where according to Haida oral traditions, Foam Woman, Sguuluu Jaad, stepped from the sea.

Williams-Davidson gathered several such images thanks to local photographers. Many of the studio photographs of her depicting the supernaturals were done by photojournalist Farah Nosh, with costumes designed by Himikalas designer Pam Baker.

Those with an eye for detail might also spot some of Haida Gwaii’s endemic wildlife, such as the Mariposa copper butterfly, seen fluttering by Ice Woman, Kalga Jaad.

In a book that will launch this August, Wiliams-Davidson details what she has learned from ancestors, relatives, and the ethnographic record about the many female Haida supernaturals.

“That’s been the most time-consuming, because I’m a lawyer and I like detail and footnotes,” she said, laughing.

Along with the book and gallery exhibit, Williams-Davidson also has a forthcoming album, her third, that includes songs about the supernaturals.

Recorded with Chilliwack guitarist Bill Henderson and fellow musician Claire Lawrence, it was made in a similar, revitalizing spirit, recorded live off the floor.

“They don’t like to play a song the same way forever,” said Williams-Davidson. “Every take we made in the studio is different.”

Between now and December, visitors to the Haida Gwaii Museum can hear an early version of one song on the album — it’s the soundtrack to a video that shows Williams-Davidson transforming into Grizzly Bear Woman, Xuu.ajii Jaad.

Noting that Haida art often depicts beings in a state of transformation, Williams-Davidson said she feels that is where Haidas are today as indigenous people.

“We’re in this state of transformation, and where we are right now is a key part of the journey,” she said.

“It may not be perfect — Canada and Canadians’ relationship with indigenous peoples may not be perfect — but it is where we are, and there is value to acknowledging where we are to collectively move forward.”

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii cleaning up after tree-toppling storm

Crews working to restore power to Queen Charlotte, Skidegate, Tlell, Port Clements, and Tow Hill

In Pictures: Masset Christmas concert stocks lots of laughs

Masset’s community Christmas concert knocked everyone’s yellow socks off last Friday night.… Continue reading

Appeals court upholds existing two-stage plan for Haida title case

Judges dismiss a Haida Nation appeal to keep phase one focused on a broad declaration of rights

Coastal GasLink gets interim injunction against Unist’ot’en

The LNG pipeline company can start work Monday with enforcement approved by court.

Haida Gwaii gets set for major storm on Saturday

Environment Canada warns Saturday southeaster may bring winds of 90 to 120 km/h

Some types of cauliflower, lettuce recalled over E. coli fears

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced recall because of possible contamination.

Ryan Reynolds to narrate movie about B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Vancouver-born actor known for Deadpool movies will voice film to be released Feb. 15, 2019

Airline passengers could get up to $2,400 for delays, damaged bags: Canadian agency

Canadian Transportation Agency is releasing draft regulations for public feedback

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

‘Spider-Verse’ swings to the top; ‘Mortal Engines’ tanks

“Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore.

Canadians spent almost $64,000 on goods and services in 2017

Households in B.C. each spent $71,001 with housing costs contributing to higher average

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

RCMP estimated more than 1,500 people attended the rally in Grande Prairie

White House closer to partial shutdown with wall demand

Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Most Read